Mother Spirit, Father Spirit, where are you?
In the sky song, in the forest, sounds your cry.
What to give you, what to call you, what am I?

Many drops are in the ocean, deep and wide.
Sunlight bounces off the ripples to the sky.
What to give you, what to call you, who am I?

I am empty, time flies from me; what is time?
Dreams eternal, fears infernal haunt my heart.
What to give you, what to call you, O, my God?

Mother Spirit, Father Spirit, take our hearts.
Take our breath and let our voices sing our parts.
Take our hands and let us work to shape our art.

This is one of our most haunting hymns – both melody and lyric work together to create an air of mystery, wondering, and mysticism. It is the plaintive call of the seeker, questioning all, finding solace in each other. It is a hymn uniquely suited for us – it is theism and humanism, nature and community, all rolled into one. I know that its author, Norbert Capek, did not live to see the fullness of the modern Unitarian Universalist movement (he was killed by Nazis in Dachau during WWII) – but his prescient lyric speaks deeply of those questions we wrestle with today.

I often imagine this should be a round – and then I realize we’d miss the lyrics if we sang it that way. But I hope others sing it; it is familiar to me and yet I find I don’t use it in my own services. Is it because of the binary language (mother/father)? Is it because of all the assumptions that there is a god? Is it, despite the landing on our hands and hearts, too theistic? As a minister, I both want to challenge our assumptions and give space for our particularities. Does this go too far? Not far enough? Many questions to ponder.

All I can ultimately say is that for me, this hymn speaks deeply to the questions I wrestle with all the time: ‘what to give you, what to call you, who am I?”

It is something to have wept as we have wept,
and something to have done as we have done;
it is something to have watched when all have slept,
and seen the stars which never see the sun.

It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
although it break and leave the thorny rods;
it is something to have hungered once as those
must hunger who have ate the bread of gods:

To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
the fearful ancient passions, strange and high;
it is something to be wiser than the world,
and something to be older than the sky.

Lo, and blessed are our ears for they have heard:
yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
let the thunder break on human, beast, and bird,
and lightning. It is something to have been.

I feel like this is one of those hymns I want to come back to after I have actually heard it – plunking out the notes on my little keyboard app, I know, isn’t doing it justice – and I don’t know what to think of it. Perhaps it is the time of year, but the melody sounds a bit to me like a Jewish folk song; and if that is true, I want to delve more deeply into the pairing of these words with that melody.

What I am learning pretty quickly about this spiritual practice is that it’s frustrating when the tune doesn’t come easily. I’m a good sight reader, but the practice well, takes practice. I suppose there are days I will have glorious insights and some days when I’m like the King in the film Amadeus, haltingly plunking out notes.

I am also learning  – in just five pages – how little of the hymnal I actually know. It’s true that we get used to singing certain hymns, but I think even in my first years of ministry, I have been remiss in learning new pieces to add life and meaning to our services. While they might not all come easily, I hope that in part, this long practice yields some new favorites. It reminds me of a time when I was tiny – I don’t remember this, but my family does: Mom got tired of cooking the same nine or ten meals all the time, so she decided to spend a year fixing a new dish each evening. The rule was that you had to taste it at least, and there was always PB&J or hot dogs or spaghetti if the meal was a failure. But out of that experiment, mom dutifully going through her cookbooks to find appealing dinners, we now have dozens of family favorite recipes, considered staples in our home – beef roulades, rice pilaf, curried fruit, Irish stew, and more – and we all have copies of those cookbooks in our own homes – Gourmet, James Beard, Julia Child, etc.

So maybe this will become a favorite. I will be revisiting.


Words by GK Chesterton
Music by Robert L. Sanders

I brought my spirit to the sea;
I stood upon the shore.
I gazed upon infinity,
I heard the waters roar.

And then there came a sense of peace,
some whisper calmed my soul.
Some ancient ministry of stars
had made my spirit whole.

I brought my spirit to the trees
that loomed against the sky.
I touched each wand’ring careless breeze
to know if god was nigh.

And then I felt an inner flame that
fiercely burned my tears.
Upright, I rose from bended knee
to meet the asking years.

I am sad to say I have never sung this before – sad because it is beautiful, and touches both lyrically and melodically on that mystery contained in all of existence. It is reverent and mystical and makes me want to take a walk along the Sound.

That it is the fourth hymn tells me of nature’s import to our hymn curators but also to our theology (at least the theology of the early 90s); it places our Transcendentalist forebears in a position of import. And I don’t know who ever sings it – I hope other congregations do, because I’ve never encountered it anywhere, other than in flips through the hymnal on the way to other hymns.

And that’s a shame. I for one want to really learn it and use it, because it speaks deeply, even to my very theist self.

The melody alone has a graceful flow, gentle scales supporting surprising intervals that emphasize the lyric mysticism. And the lyrics, calling us to give in and give over and draw strength from that which is so much bigger than us alone, tangible yet infinite. These lyrics evoke a primordial Yes… “I felt an inner flame that fiercely burned my tears” … “An ancient ministry of stars had made my spirit whole”…. I am surrendered. I am ready. Yes… deep within my soul, every cell and molecule cries ‘yes’ to the ancient mystery.


Words by Max Capp
Music by Alex Wyton